Introduction: Full Grain Leather Belts

Picture of Full Grain Leather Belts

In this instructable I'll show you the basics of belt making.  A few specialized tools are used but you can get away without some of them if you're creative.  If you are on this site, you probably are.  So have at it!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools

-Leather- I usually use 8 to 10 oz. full grain vegetable tanned leather for my belts. ( ) You can also buy pre-cut belt blanks if you don't want to buy a whole side of leather.  If you are going to make a ton of belts buy a side.  If only one, buy a blank.

-Leather dye
-Buckle  (This one is 1 1/4" solid brass, nickel plated garrison buckle from )
-2 rivets
-Thread (optional for embellishments )
-Edge paint ( also optional.  If you buff edge really good you can just dye it )

Tools (from left to right)
-knife- snap off utility knifes are great
-3/16" hole punch
-Stitching groover (not totally necessary but cool for putting decorative or stitching grooves in)
-Edge beveler ( You can just sand the edge if your a cheapskate )
-Wing divider ( you can skip this too if your just doing a bit of leather work.  Used to mark the tongue holes)
-Scratch awl ( Use whatever pointy thing to mark stuff on leather )
-Sand paper

(not shown)
-gloves ( for dyeing )
-straight edge

Step 2: Cut Belt Blank

Picture of Cut Belt Blank

If you bought a hide you need to first cut a straight edge on it.  Kind of difficult if you don't have much room.  Use the side that runs along the spine of the cow.

Then measure the inside width of your buckle.  They usually come in 1/4" increments.  Mine here is 1 1/4"  Don't make it to snug or your belt will squeak and be difficult to buckle.

Cut to width with your straight edge or if you have a strap cutter use that (they're pretty sweet to use)

Figure out what side of your blank has the tightest grain,  it will be denser.  This is your butt end and should be the side you use for the belt tip.  Cut the tip in the style you want.  Mine here is an english point.  I have a punch for my wider belts but since this is a woman's belt it's a little narrower. 

Step 3: Mark Holes and Cut to Length

Picture of Mark Holes and Cut to Length

Some of my pics are out of order as far as what has been done at what point.

Most belts have five holes to buckle your... well... buckle.  They are about 3/4" apart with 2 to 3 inches to tip of last hole.
The middle hole is your target hole for length.  If you have a belt that fits well, use it to get the length.  If not measure your waist than measure from middle hole to about 3/4 past center of buckle slot.  (where the 5 is on 2nd pic)

Mark out your holes for the slot and for the rivets and punch 'em out.

Step 4: Add Your Logo

Picture of Add Your Logo

Here I made a stamp using a big honking nail and a Dremel with a cut off disk to make my armadillo logo.  Wet leather and hit it
with a hammer.

Step 5: Dye Man, Dyeeee!

Picture of Dye Man, Dyeeee!

Follow the manufactures directions on how to use your dye.  Mine calls for wetting the leather first, let it dry, than buff.
I used a black dye on the backside.

Step 6: Bevel and Sand Edges

Picture of Bevel and Sand Edges

Use your edge beveler to bevel edges.  

You can also buff it at this point with a piece of canvas or duck cloth.  Wet it first then rub the edge super fast with canvas.  You're fingers will get hot but that's good.  The friction and heat seals the grain of the leather and will give you a smoother edge. ( I skipped this on this particular belt, Lazy )

Sand it round if you please.

Step 7: Embellish

Picture of Embellish

Here you can sew your belt just to be cool or scribe some grooves in it with wing dividers.

Step 8: Finish Edge

Picture of Finish Edge

Paint edge with...Edge Paint.

Step 9: Rivet Buckle

Picture of Rivet Buckle

Make sure you put the buckle on the right direction.  There is usually a divot where the tongue hits the frameUsing quick rivets attach buckle.  Hammer down squarely cuz it's easy to hit it off center and dent the rivet.

Step 10: Fin.

Picture of Fin.

Finish belt with neutral shoe wax, neat foot's oil, mink oil or whatever is easiest to get a hold of.  Just don't use olive oil.  You're not going to eat it I hope.

All done!


ALD3 (author)2015-01-04

I like to use snaps instead of rivets on the belt buckle fold, it allows me to change buckles. Just a thought. thanks for your instructions.

ClockworkDragonfly (author)2013-05-28

Rubbing the edges with natural beeswax instead of wetting with water for the burnishing (what you've called "buffing" here) process will create a smoother, longer lasting edge finish.

You can do that too but it won't hold the edge finish as well because the wax will not allow proper adhesion. If you are not going to use edge dye you could use an edge slicker, wood or plastic, and wax it.
There are so many ways to do it really.
I live in ecuador and met a saddle maker that taught me some tricks. It's kinda cool because he doesn't have access to really any real leather working tools or products but turns out beautiful products.

Even with edge dye you can use wax. I dye my edges prior to the burnishing process. This allows the cloth (canvas in your case, denim in mine) to absorb some of the excess dye (meaning no unsightly bleeding out onto clothing) while it works the wax in under friction. Plastic/nylon slickers aren't suitable for use with wax as they don't cause enough friction to work the wax in properly.

So do you use edge paint or the dye you use for your project? What dye do you like,to use? I think I'll try it your way on my next bag. I'm currently in the states for a couple of weeks and just ordered some supplies from Tandy.
Thanks for the tips!

I use spirit based dyes. My preference was the Tandy Pro-Dye, but they killed that line in favor of their Eco-Flo line (which I have not used personally but have heard horrible things about), so all I have left of that is what I've got squirreled away. The Fiebings brand spirit dyes aren't bad, but I find their colors to not be as rich as I like. Looking at the earthy tones in your example images, you might find the Fiebings dyes to be to your liking. Don't buy the thinner they sell though unless you're not able to get denatured alcohol, because that's all it really is when it comes down to it.

Dezri (author)2013-04-24

Sweet! Nice to see anyone that will carry on in my fathers footsteps! He was a saddlemaker etc!

jdela rosa (author)2013-04-18
flavrt (author)2013-04-10

Thank you for an extremely informative introduction to leather crafting. From your link, I also found a leather store nearby.

Phiske (author)flavrt2013-04-10

Thanks for commenting! If you found a Tandy leather store nearby that's awesome. There aren't a lot of them. They are super overpriced but there aren't a whole lot of options out there. Fun to walk around in though.
This was just a quick and dirty post for me. My wife kept saying "You're addicted to,instructables!"

ladybgood (author)Phiske2013-04-16

There are a whole lot worse things to be addicted to

zumtime (author)2013-04-14

Any suggestions for what sewing machine to use? Something cheaper than the $1500 commercial grade machines?

Phiske (author)zumtime2013-04-15

For the thick, full-grain saddle leather it would have to be a heavy duty machine. But for most garment leather and also some shoe leathers you should be able to get away with your mom's singer. Check out my other instructables, they could be done with a home machine. Just use a leather needle that is chisel or diamond shaped. I used a literally hundred year old singer like they used in Three Amigos. (does that say my age?) It worked okay for a lot of my goods. But nothing beats a walking foot. I have the JUKI DNU-1541. It's an awesome although expensive machine.
How much you want to pay?

lsmith254 (author)zumtime2013-04-14

You can hand-stitch it with a sailmaker's sewing can get these at Hobby Lobby or other craft stores, or possibly a shoe-repair shop or canvas shop will order one for you locally. There's always mail order, too. It will take a lot longer and you will have to concentrate on keeping your tensions even; secure the belt on either side of stitching with hand-clamps. It costs around six or seven dollars, last I checked.

gourdhedd (author)2013-04-14

Nice armadillo motif! How about an instructable on making the armadillo punch?

Phiske (author)gourdhedd2013-04-15

cbm104 posted an instructable that gave me the idea.
First I filed the head of the nail smooth than I drew the armadillo on it with a fin tip sharpie. The only difference in how I shaped my punch was that I used a Dremel with a cut off wheel and sort of carved it out. I was surprised how well it turned out. Only took like ten minutes in all. Stamps as such can only be used on veg. tanned leather. But I do throw the stamp on our gas stove to heat it up and brand it on chrome tanned leather. Works great!

Rich99 (author)gourdhedd2013-04-14

great idea.

Marianneg (author)2013-04-14

Very nice !

sabu.dawdy (author)2013-04-11

i like it

Phiske (author)sabu.dawdy2013-04-11

آپ کا شکریہ

sabu.dawdy (author)Phiske2013-04-12

JANAB URDU :p kamaal ha :P

Phil B (author)2013-04-11

Thank you. I have a belt similar to what you show. I bought it at an art in the park craft fair and it has lasted me close to ten years. I particularly like the solid brass buckle. No matter how much it wears, its color does not change. Also, the leather is not some cheap thing that cracks on the finish to reveal a cheaper base material underneath. It is still doing well, although my wife thinks it is not dressy enough to wear anyplace nice. One day I will want to replace the leather portion. I found belt blanks on-line. They cost almost as much as the finished belt cost when I bought it.

I have another problem. My wife gave me a new Bulova Marine Star watch with a leather band. (I selected it and you can see a photo at Amazon.) The band is padded and has white decorative stitching. I liked the reddish brown band color, but that started flaking off on heavy wear areas as soon as I began to wear the watch. I suspect it is supposed to flake in order to take on a distressed leather look, but nothing I can find about the watch indicates it is or is not supposed to look like distressed leather. As I see it, my options are to: 1) enjoy the distressed leather look and not worry about it, 2) try to find a liquid shoe polish or dye and stain the leather, 3) replace the band with a new band that does not flake off. I took it to the seller and they told me to contact Bulova, but that has fallen on deaf ears. I tried some brown paste shoe polish, but it made very little change in the color. Would you consider a comment or an Instructable on what to do in situations like that of my watch band? Thank you.

Phiske (author)Phil B2013-04-11

That's one of the biggest problems with leather watch bands. Belts don't get as gross because of the direct skin contact on the watch. It's the salt in the sweat that usually ruins them. You could try cleaning it with saddle soap which will remove the salt and waxes that were previously put on it then try a dye made for shoes. Not a leather paint, but a dye. Once you dye it well you could either use mink oil or a good wax which is cheaper. But once you by all these products it might be cheaper to get a new band :-) I'm not super experienced with leather repair advised!

Phil B (author)Phiske2013-04-11

Thank you for your detailed response. Some shoe and leather products cost almost as much as a new watch band at Amazon, but there will be shipping charges, too. I have not had the opportunity to perspire in it, yet.

Phiske (author)2013-04-11

he he. Thanks! they are not all that hard to make... just not so cheap. They last forever if you use the right materials.

porcupinemamma (author)2013-04-11

ok, right now I wear my tee shirts over my pants, in a vain attempt to cove my not so flat tummy. Of all the diets that I have tried and failed at, making a replica of your belt will be the best motivater to get my act together so I could show off any one of your splendid belt designs (my favourite is the red one.) Beautiful craftmanship! Thanks for posting.

About This Instructable




Bio: Whatever you do take care of your shoes
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